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Originally published September 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 16, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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Yours in Health

Pomegranate power for prostate?

Q: I read that pomegranate juice is good for prostate cancer. Is that true? If so, should all men with prostate cancer use it, or are there...

Special to The Seattle Times

Q: I read that pomegranate juice is good for prostate cancer. Is that true? If so, should all men with prostate cancer use it, or are there certain situations it is good for?

A: Pomegranate has been getting a lot of attention lately for potential health benefits. Traditionally, people have used every part of the plant from the bark to the seeds; but currently, most of the focus is on the fruit, usually in the form of juice or fruit extract.

People became interested in using pomegranate for prostate cancer because the fruit extract prevented aggressive prostate cancer cells from growing in test tubes. The extract also slowed the growth of prostate tumors in animals.

Pomegranate may work on prostate cancer because it has a high amount of different chemicals that we usually lump together under the name polyphenols. These substances are potent antioxidants, but also have a wide variety of other effects, including wound healing, improving circulation, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

But polyphenols may not be a panacea. Some researchers tried to isolate which chemicals in pomegranate fruit are responsible for its anti-tumor effects. As it turned out — as is true for many plants, by the way — the whole juice was more effective against cancer cells than individual components alone.

There has been one study of pomegranate juice for prostate cancer. It included 46 men who had been treated with either surgery or radiation, who had an increasing PSA. (The PSA — or prostate-specific antigen — is a marker found in the blood, which doctors check to look for prostate disease.)

When these men drank 8 ounces of pomegranate juice per day, the rate at which their PSA number doubled increased from about 15 months to 54 months, meaning the cancer's growth had slowed. The juice also prolonged the time that their disease was stable.

There are, as always, some caveats to this study. One is that this was a small study, and it had no control group. By that, I mean that they didn't have a "juice-free" comparison, because every man in the study got the pomegranate juice. Without a comparison, results sometimes look better than they actually are.

Secondly, the study doesn't "prove" that pomegranate juice is good for every man with prostate cancer. The people in this study were in a specific set of circumstances, and you have to be careful about assuming that they apply to every man with prostate cancer. That said, pomegranate juice has a great safety record. It's hard to beat 2,000 years of safe use as a food. On top of that, personally, pomegranate is delicious, unlike some other medicinal plants that I have had the "pleasure" of eating

By the way, some people ask me about using juice concentrate instead of just plain juice, because it has fewer calories. I think it's probably fine; 1 teaspoon of juice concentrate is equal to 1 cup of juice.

Dr. Astrid Pujari is a Seattle M.D. with an additional degree as a medical herbalist; she practices at the Pujari Center and teaches as part of the residency programs at Virginia Mason and Swedish/Cherry Hill hospitals. Send questions to apujari@seattletimes.com for possible use in future columns. All information is intended for education and not a substitute for medical advice. Consult your doctor before following any suggestions given here.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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About Yours in Health
Dr. Astrid Pujari is a Seattle M.D. with an additional degree as a medical herbalist; she practices at the Pujari Center and teaches as part of the residency programs at Virginia Mason and Swedish Providence hospitals.

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